Letters to the editor, June 2001

This article was originally published in June 2001

Local produce signage

I was disappointed in the response to Trish Heinonen’s letter (May 2001, Sound Consumer) suggesting better signage for local produce. True, the signs now state the origination of the produce, but often that part of the sign is hidden behind the produce piles. I myself prefer not to look through signs at all because it always seems like I have a hard time finding the corresponding sign for the item I’m interested in.

But my quarrel with the (non)response goes deeper. As people are beginning to understand, local production of food and the safety and quality of food go hand-in-hand. For me, its even more important to buy local than to buy organic. We need to find ways to shift people’s thinking toward support for local farms. This includes helping consumers make the right choice at the point of sale.

Secondly, I hope PCC figures out how to respond to evolving consumer needs for better information so it can survive. People don’t shop for produce by signs! They shop by seeing what the available choices are in a section of the produce department that meet their needs for the coming while, at least I do. Then they can make reasonable substitutions. If all the locally produced items were grouped together (as you do organic food), it would make it much easier to make local goods a conscious choice. Another idea is to use bright flags to designate the local items. Then people could survey the choices visually.

In sort, my advice is to get creative and pay more attention to your customers’ and co-op members’ evolving needs and how you can go about changing the system.
— Viki Sonntag

Joe Hardiman, Produce Merchandiser replies:
I couldn’t agree with you more. I totally agree that we need to do a better job of highlighting our local producers. I wish I could snap my fingers and get a new improved sign program right away, yet it’s a hugely expensive and complicated process. The infrastructure we’re using now must be replaced with an entirely new sign program. We’ll need to overlay our existing computer program with a huge retrofit, looking at all our options to make it effective and cost efficient. It’s a challenge, but it’s a priority for me, especially after receiving numerous requests to emphasize local producers. Keep your suggestions coming!

Satisfied member

Please accept this letter as my resignation from Puget Consumers Co-op. As my partner and I have moved to Grays Harbor County, we would like to invest the funds in the Olympia Food Co-op, where we do most of our shopping now.

As a member of PCC for over 10 years now, both through an ex and on my own, I have to say that it has been a pleasure being a member of such a fine organization. I have been quite pleased with the stores that I have been in, both for their look and ease of finding items, as well as the friendliness of most of the individuals that work/volunteer in them. I have also had nothing but courteous encounters with the office staff whenever I have come into the main office.

On a final note, I would also like to commend your web site staff on their wonderful job of bringing PCC to the world via the Internet. It’s nice to be able to get Sound Consumer articles and tips even down here in Grays Harbor.
— Daniel Bernstein-Reppen

Food security and canola myths

We are being inundated with the canola oil myths. Can we reprint Goldie’s article — Canola oil, panacea or poison? I’d sure like to. Goldie is an awesome resource — a sort of Co-op National Treasure.
— Elizabeth Archerd,
Wedge Community Co-op, Minneapolis

Editor replies: Yes, reprint away! We’re honored that the Wedge wants to reprint her report. We received similar requests from the Davis Food Co-op (Davis, CA) and Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee, WI.

Sustainable waters

You wrote a great article and did a very thorough job research the subject (Copper River Salmon, Sustainable Seafood, May 2001, Sound Consumer). A few minor notes, if you are interested:

  • 4th paragraph: I would argue that most people can taste and see the difference between the three main species; they are actually quite different, with chinook being the fattiest, sockeye the reddest and coho not that exciting!
    One important reason to be spending more money on Copper River Chinook is the benefit of additional Omega3 from the added (beneficial) fat.
  • Washington fisheries are very well regulated (better than Alaskan fisheries) as a by-product of the Boldt decision (U.S. versus Washington) and the fact that 50 percent of the salmon catch is allocated to Tribes. As a result, the carrying capacity of each watershed is fairly well-known, and the state and the tribes account for virtually each fish landed commercially in Washington.
  • In many watersheds of the Pacific Northwest, the main cause for the decline of salmon runs is poor habitat, not harvest, hatcheries or hydroelectrics. We can all do our part to help restore habitat by conserving water, limiting our use of chemicals, volunteering to plant and enhance waterbodies and supporting efforts by the government to enforce existing regulations.
  • You write: “On the other hand, nearly all Trout and Catfish sold commercially are fresh-water farmed and earn a “green” rating. This may seem strange to readers, since most of the article goes on to explain why farmed fish is not a good idea. Maybe a word or two should be added to explain why farmed trout and catfish are ok — I have to confess that I don’t know — I would assume the farm operation causes the same by-products of chemicals, antibiotics, destruction of wetlands, etc. as other fish farms.

Farmed fish and GE fish

When I fished the Copper River for six years in the late ’70s – early ’80s, the traditional opener was May 15th not the 13th — however, it may have changed. I would not necessarily say that the chinooks, sockeyes and cohos from Copper River are similar in flavor — each species is distinct and I think it would be more advantageous for your stores and the fishing industry to refer to wild salmon in general, not one fairly small fisheries. We will harvest 12 to 13 million sockeye in Bristol Bay, other areas of Alaska have fabulous wild fish and Puget Sound fisheries are managed to protect spawning escapement also. Copper River has a cult following, but I probably would not be able to tell the difference between their fish and other wild species. They are firm and fatty, but are most special because they are first of the season.

One of the strongest arguments against farmed salmon is that it takes three to five pounds of pelagic fish that is made into pellets, to grow one pound of farmed Atlantic Salmon. Sockeye, chum and pink salmon do not feed on small fish — only the Chinook, Coho and Atlantic do and that is why they can be raised in pens (I don’t know about Steelhead, but I suspect they are also carnivorous). Almost the entire marine aquaculture industry is unsustainable for that reason.

Also, I can be contacted at eatwildfish@aol.com, but the eatwildfish.org and fishforall.org sites are not up yet. We are not going to be doing seafood certification ourselves but will educate consumers locally.

Regarding my work:
Non-native Atlantic Salmon are being raised in open netpens in Washington and British Columbia, and more than one million have escaped into Pacific Northwest waters. They’ve been found breeding and colonizing in streams, and compete with wild fish for food and territory.

Now an even greater threat to wild salmon is nearing federal approval. At a recent press conference in Boston, Anne Mosness, local salmon fisher, spoke with Greenpeace representatives about the impending approval of genetically engineered salmon by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To ensure the FDA (and all other federal agencies) “implements a complete and adequate assessment of the risks to the environment and human health before permitting the marketing of transgenic fish to consumers, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) is filing ak series of legal petitions with the FDA and four other government agencies demanding a moratorium on the domestic marketing and importation of transgenic fish until FDA adequately addresses the impacts to the environment and human food safety. In addition, the petitions request that each federal agency with jurisdiction over an aspect of aquaculture take regulatory action consistent with the moratorium request. We expect to actually file the petitions in early Spring.”

Petitioner Center for Food Safety is a non-profit, membership organization located at 666 Pensylvania Ave., SE, Suite 302, Washington, DC 20003, www.centerforfoodsafety.org. CFS was established in 1997 to address the increasing concerns about the impacts of our food production system on human health, animal welfare and the environment. Cotnact Tracie Letterman, 202-547-9359, 202-547-9429 fax.

[Sent in a later email to the editor:]
The Whatcom Democratic Women’s Club unanimously passed a resolution requiring production of GE fish to be allowed only in land-based, closed systems. Maryland passed a moratorium to prohibit GE fish from getting into the marine environment. A coalition of 60 consumer and environmental groups, fishing companies and fishermen also is demanding a moratorium on GE fish and has filed legal petitions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and other government agencies.

We need city and county councils, port and citizen organizations to pass restrictive resolutions so we can take them to the state legislature next year.
—Anne Mosness
“Go Wild” Consumer Awareness Campaign Bellingham, WA

Pricing and the value of membership

In a recent issue of the Sound Consumer, there was an article about using the membership card at checkout. Why? For my big savings of around 38¢ every time I go into a PCC store? It’s hardly worth the effort.
—Caralyn Haglund

The Editor replies:
I talked with management in merchandising, operations and finance. We don’t know what items you purchase, but your choices may not reflect volume purchases in produce and perishables, which often give the greatest savings.

It’s a given that shoppers will be able to find cheaper non-organic food than PCC can offer, but the data indicates we deliver the better price on high quality organics over most of our product line on a sustained basis. Understand that larger outfits, such as QFC or Fred Meyer’s (both owned by Kroger), may price organic foods as “loss leaders.” This means they sell organics at a loss, expecting to make up the difference in margin on conventional items. Since organics are the fastest-growing segment of the industry, the big players want a slice of the market, too! They have huge buying power, which enables them to offer cut-rate prices on organics from time to time. This is what PCC tries to do over the broad spectrum, but we can’t always match the bigger powers at the wholesale level; we pay a higher cost.

Another part of the equation is that PCC is more than just a store to buy food. We exist to serve member interests, not only shareholder profits. The extra services include the Sound Consumer, discounts on FoodWorks classes, and PCC’s work with many community groups that help define us. We created the Farmland Fund. We make our voice heard on efforts to prohibit toxic waste in fertilizer, to support Fair Trade, labels on GMO foods, and other consumer concerns. We also pay higher wages compared to the rest of the industry because we truly value our employees as a key asset. You won’t see conventional chains speak out for consumer interests in this manner. These things combined provide a value of membership that is a good deal all told.

At the same time, management always is looking for ways to improve on pricing and needs member input such as yours.

Also in this issue